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Why fans’ love for their team isn’t just brand loyalty—it’s a lifestyle

A student sitting on Kinsley Field bleacher posing for his photo

Mike Mudrick, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at York College, will dive into the power of understanding fan behavior at a Spartan Speaks lecture on April 6, 2021.

Mike Mudrick admits he’s a perfect example of a sports fan who cares—a lot. His emotions are often a product of how his sport team performs. When someone asks where he’s from, he not only mentions the Philadelphia-area, but he notes his fandom for the city’s teams, from the Phillies to the Eagles.

“This isn’t just about the fluff you hear on sports talk radio,” says Mudrick, an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at York College of Pennsylvania. “It’s really about group identity, group behaviors, and identity preservation.”

One of the reasons Mudrick decided to pursue a doctorate in Sport Management was because of his own love for sports. He falls back on the quip of research really being “me-search,” where people who want to study certain subjects gravitate to the things that interest them the most. One of the built-in advantages of studying this topic, he says, is that it equips students for their professional careers, while giving them a chance to explore what they already love.

“For a lot of York College students, their interest in this topic is part of their identity,” Mudrick says. “Now, we get to have really interesting conversations related to an interest they love.”

Understanding the culture

Marc Albright ’21 grew up in the Cal Ripken, Jr. era of Baltimore Orioles baseball. Albright associates his fandom for “The Iron Man” with his own values to have a strong work ethic and be a good person. “That stuck with me,” he says. “I attached it to myself as an individual, and it has led me to follow that team my whole life.”

Albright recognizes that sport itself doesn’t teach good values, but it can be a tool to instilling strong character development and establishing role models. “Sport is so influential in our culture, not just for entertainment but from a value perspective,” he says. “That’s an important thing I want to consider if I choose to pursue a coaching path.”

Working as a federal police officer for the past four years, Albright can see the subtle values he identifies with in sport follow him in his professional career. He also recognizes the importance of diversity in sport teams, so that children of all demographics can see themselves in the players they follow.

“Giving younger people a way to see themselves through those players helps instill those values,” Albright says. “We know the power that sport teams have to influence a group of people, to identify themselves with that culture. We need to be mindful of how we represent that.”

More than a brand

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked that sport fans cheer more for a uniform than they do a team, but Mudrick sees sport fandom as something much deeper than that. While people may have their favorite brand of soda or toothpaste, they often don’t show that brand off to strangers, include it in biographical descriptions of themselves, or use it as part of their personal identity. That’s where the love for a sports team is different, he says.

“There are few things that have as strong of an emotional attachment to a person,” Mudrick says. “I think sport fandom, religion, and politics are the only things that can influence a person in that way.”

Watch this Spartan Speaks

Looking to learn more on sport fandom? Watch the lecture here: